In April 2021, we hosted an INMA Webinar called “New Digital Audiences and New Digital Channels: How Do Publishers Win” about the different digital platforms, such as social media and podcasts, available for publishers to reach audiences. The purpose of the Webinar was to highlight how rapidly news consumption habits have been changing.
According to the Pew Research Center, news Web sites and search are still the most popular sources for accessing news online, but more than 50% of U.S. adults use social media and almost 25% use podcasts for news. In addition to providing more reach, social media and podcasts also attract different, younger audiences: 42% of adults aged 18–29 get news from social media “often” compared to less than 15% of people aged 50–65+.
In other words, maintaining a multi-platform distribution strategy can maximise audience reach and diversity.
Traditional media platforms are still valuable for news publishers
Digital certainly represents the cutting edge in terms of distribution strategies. However, traditional media platforms, such as radio and television (in addition to print), still provide significant audience scale.
Although showing declines over the last few years due to growing digital share, 68% of U.S. adults access news through television, 50% through radio, and 32% through print. In addition, there are discrete audiences that don’t engage with news frequently via digital, and adding quality television and radio can ensure a well-rounded audience base.
Options for investing in radio and television distribution
The major difference between traditional and digital platforms, though, is the inability to easily access radio and television distribution without investment. Publishers can link their existing workflows to their verified Facebook/Twitter profiles or e-mail management systems to distribute digitally. However, outside of baseline syndication, radio and television effectively requires ownership.
This type of cross-platform play, especially within local metro markets, is not a new concept by any means, but has been off limits for about 50 years in the United States due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations around cross-ownership. However, in April 2021 the Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s decision to eliminate the newspaper-broadcast limitations, opening the door for these types of moves in the future.
Public media provides a roadmap
Interestingly, the public media industry has been in tune to this cross-platform distribution playbook for a number of years, partly as a result of looser restrictions on cross-ownership for public media companies. The Public Media Mergers Project — a programme launched in 2019 in collaboration among the Shorenstein Center, Public Media Venture Group, and Google News Initiative — studied prior mergers between eight public radio and digital native news publishers to understand benefits and best practices from such combinations.
Even more recently, Chicago Public Media, the parent company of WBEZ, has decided to pursue an acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times, the second-largest daily newspaper in the Chicago metro area. Across both examples a similar thesis has emerged: Combining print and/or digital distribution with radio helps increase scale and reach new audiences, while also allowing for more newsroom investment.
Cross-platform ownership could mitigate dwindling newsroom investment
The second point in particular regarding newsroom investment is critical at a time when local newsroom investment is dwindling. Pew estimates that total employment is U.S. newsrooms is down more than 26% from 111,000 in 2008 to 82,000 in 2020.
Building integrated newsrooms that cross-promote stories across channels, collaborate on insightful, in-depth stories, and reach larger audiences (i.e. more revenue upside to be re-invested in newsroom resources) can help unlock the way for providing quality local news coverage and help support a more sustainable business model for news.
The timing might be right for cross-platform strategy
As mentioned earlier, the idea of newspapers (daily print or digital native) combining forces with broadcast TV and radio players is not a new development. But the timing may finally be right — in terms of regulatory environment and challenges facing local publishers across all three platforms — to start evaluating options in the space. And, most importantly, it may provide options to (i) allow for more, higher-quality investment in local newsrooms and (ii) ensure the sustainable operating model for local news.